I haven't listened to Omnium Gatherum in so long that I'm effectively coming to them fresh again and they surprised me here. This album kicks off with a piece of music that's slick, thoughtful and very patient. It's also, quite frankly, hard rock instead of the melodic death metal I expected and, sure, Emergence is only an intro but it feels like an intro to a very different album than what I expected. As the songs proper kick in, with agreeable melodeath crunch, they're also slick, thoughtful and very patient. There are a lot of keyboards in play and it feels like it's intended for an arena rather than a small club. They've clearly been listening to a lot of Dark Tranquillity.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something I need to adjust to. There are a few heavier sections that feel more like traditional melodic death metal, even with a keyboard layer floating over the top, but the most obvious genre component is the vocal delivery of Jukka Pelkonen, and it almost feels out of place with its unashamedly harsh aspect. Which seems so weird to say! It's a melodic death metal album and it feels strange for the vocals to be harsh? I can safely say that I'd never expected to find myself writing that at Apocalypse Later!
Now, some songs play a lot more traditionally than others. While the first three kick off with their keyboards paramount, as if we're in Within Temptation territory, and the fourth starts quiet and slow with pensive guitar, Friction kicks off just like the melodic death metal you might expect. It's heavy and up tempo and, while it doesn't stay fast, it starts that way. Solemn may have another of those quiet and thoughtful intros, with a soaring but subdued guitar solo, but it kicks in hard too, with prominent drums and guitars that ramp up soon enough to match. Pelkonen feels right at home here.
But this isn't the norm. For the most part, this feels like the band have done an Opeth-esque shift from an extreme metal sound to a prog rock sound but they haven't let Pelkonen in on the secret yet. Even as Solemn builds into something even more dynamic than it began, it feels like there's a clean voice missing and, on many other songs, it feels like that missing clean voice ought to be the only voice. There is a clean backing vocal late on Solemn and notably in other songs like Paragon, but I'm thinking more of a co-lead. Should these be clean/harsh duets?
I should emphasise here that I don't mean to be negative about Pelkonen. His harsh vocal is warm but dark and he's able to get a lot of intonation and inflexion into his delivery. Solemn is easily my highlight here and that's in part because of him. And I should also emphasise here that I like this. If I've sounded negative above, it's because I'm struggling to come to terms with this approach to melodic death metal. I tend to love when bands mix genres in unusual ways and I dug the way that this album did that, from the opening intro, with its odd combination of crunch with tinkling piano or bluesy guitar. It just feels like the music has become bigger than the vocals allow it to be.
Reading up on the changes to the band over the years, I see that only guitarist Markus Vanhala is a constant since the band's beginning in 1996. It's telling that Aapo Koivisto has the next seniority, as he's been the keyboard player since 2005. Pelkonen joined a year later and has provided harsh vocals throughout, but he's spent the last decade in tandem with Joonas Koto's clean vocals and I see that Koto left last year, to be thus far unreplaced. I wonder if that was a good decision. Maybe I'd benefit from checking out their previous album, 2018's The Burning Cold, to see the other side of that change. For now, I like this but I can't lose the feeling that it's missing a key element.